On Tuesday, the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany, said that, in spite of the graphic sexual abuse allegations put forward in a recent, widely-viewed documentary on Michael Jackson, it will host the exhibition “Michael Jackson: On the Wall,” which features pieces by more than 40 contemporary artists whose work responds to Jackson’s music. The exhibition, which originated at the National Portrait Gallery in London last year, will go on view there on March 22 as was previously planned.
Earlier this week, the American television channel HBO broadcast Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland, which details two men’s allegations that the pop star Michael Jackson sexually and emotionally abused them as children. The film’s unflinching descriptions of Jackson’s alleged abuse have prompted controversy, with fans and critics alike sounding off on how best to handle the pop star’s legacy. Now the art world has been forced to reckon with the film’s implications as well.
In a statement to ARTnews, the Bundeskunsthalle said that the show “reflects on the cultural effect of Jackson, but does not elaborate on his biography,” adding, “The Bundeskunsthalle is closely following the current controversial discussion surrounding the film documentary Leaving Neverland. The allegations are shocking, but the process [of verifying the victims’ claims] is not yet completed and has become much more difficult since the death of Michael Jackson.”
According to the Bundeskunsthalle, “Michael Jackson: On the Wall” has been in development for the past three years. It features works by Andy Warhol, Kehinde Wiley, Glenn Ligon, Louise Lawler, Faith Ringgold, David Hammons, Jordan Wolfson, and many more, and it has been met with a largely positive response in London and Paris, where it recently showed at the Grand Palais. After the Bundeskunsthalle, the show is scheduled to stop at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland this August. (The EMMA did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Michael Jackson: On the Wall” was “produced with the co-operation of the Michael Jackson Estate,” according to the National Portrait Gallery’s website. The estate has responded to Leaving Neverland by fighting fire with fire. In February, the estate filed suit against HBO, demanding $100 million or more in damages, and on Sunday, in response to the network airing the film, the estate posted a documentary of its own—a 1992 concert film about Jackson’s “Dangerous Tour”—to YouTube, followed by another movie on Monday.
While “Michael Jackson: On the Wall” travels across Europe, one of the most iconic works about the pop star—Jeff Koons’s 1988 sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles—will remain on view at least one American institution. The work, which features Jackson holding his pet chimpanzee, will continue to be shown at the Broad museum in Los Angeles, a representative for the museum confirmed to ARTnews; there will be no changes to the way it is displayed. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which also has a version of the sculpture on view in its galleries, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.